—after a portrait of Robert Howard, whose father, a firefighter, died in the World Trade Center Sept 11, 2001. (From “Faces of Ground Zero” by Joe McNally)
His pants crumple
neatly over shoes not used to standing still, hand
on his grandma’s shoulder, and she’s gotten him
into a smooth white shirt with a collar. Her
eyes knowing what she can bear. His
dad’s cap in the other hand, peak
against his heart.
His eyes are
hands working with torch and cutters,
wearing raw, working alone
to raise a building onto his shoulders
and retrieve out of the unbuilt dark
what no part of him
Hen and Pastry Bag
Glorious I am—
my pyramid tail of flame and gold,
as I wear it,
is what I bring to the morning light.
surely safe to
all this is the
small work of the day.
The great work—
oh the sun in the the tower of my tail,
my neck turning and turning,
the silk of me flowing and changing!
That lump of whatisit
on the treetop heavy
on the top very top
of the windbare spindles
dumped like a coal
it must be a coal
what is it
doing there, a coal, oh
no, it’s a crow
a huddle of crow
in the cold
a lump of crow
like a coal
on the head of a pin.
He should take care
he should tipcrow
there, on the twigtops of winter, no,
n’t care if he should,
to do crow
don’t care how it looks
and if the bough breaks
If crows were poets
they’d be scabby poets—
Beauty is Truth r-a-a-a-rk!
—but I would I would
if I could
I’ve heard a crow laugh
chuckling like a fool
at something he knew
and once I saw a crow flip
—like a tossed
flipped on his back
and folded his wings
and rolled back over
and while I thought couldn’t
scooped up more air
and flipped again.
as I watched
Abandoned Boat and Hibiscus
Perhaps they always used to pull the boat out here,
climbed out, clumsy from sitting and pulling,
dragged it up safe against the fence—
oarsplash, waveslap, gull cries
fading in their ears,
hours of rocking ebbing out from under them,
trudging home squelching with cod or snapper or salmon for dinner.
And then one day they didn’t come.
Or else they came after a winter
of storms and found too much gone wrong—
rotted, too often broken, warped too far.
Perhaps they had grown old
amid the sea-music, and that spring let it go a day or two,
then a week, then never came.
Would the hibiscus have been here then?
Its mouths surprised us—panting dancers with their tongues out,
nodding, turning, waving up
pink and eager over the fence,
and up against the railing, to the deck
where we were watching three blue herons watch the slough,
sharp and still.
The grey boat settled in my mind,
with the grass grown up in it and browned,
and the pink flowers rocking out above it.
I couldn’t look at them and think about
getting old, dragging
the boat all that way to the slough and dragging it back again—
I wanted to make the boat whole again
with two in it, one rowing, out among the mews and cormorants,
pelicans, lolling otters, porpoises rising and diving like the tops of wheels—
on a bright day when no cared-for thing is going to break.
On obtaining the court papers from my mother’s first marriage and divorce, 12/1/1927-11/10/1932
Why didn’t she tell us? She had told the court
in the end, and we have found out
in the end—page after page of terrible news jumping
from the printer, tumbling to the floor, and stopping,
jamming the rollers, as though too much had been said.
She was a girl, eighteen, lying to be married
and we are old now and she dead many years
and we have found the truth
like the body of a child preserved in snow.
Misery unimaginable to us, past reckoning or comfort, long past
holding in our arms, that child barely grown. The grey
everyday terror of which the blows,
the rapes—even those—were only instances
in a speechless winter.
Why didn’t she tell us?
I want to say—not even born, not even possible then—
I would have stopped it.
I would have killed this man long dead
who knew her better than we did,
knew her as the scar knows the flesh.
She never did tell us, we never knew what it was,
the grief she bound us with—
a bark-scar running
ring to ring.
She sang us only the beauty of the world—
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing—
sitting between our beds, dressed,
jangling and fragrant, for a party, her beauty itself
a song, a dream she made all her life—
Follow they will not dare.
In the corner of her eye—
when she sat by the window on the landing
with the sewing-machine purring and I recited my times-tables—
he must have always been there.
Each morning she made herself up—
every day the song of the new self
until it must have seemed the real self
but with some grey merciless thing always knowing better, intruding
on the edge of the light.
Beside the breakfast table, the oatmeal, the tall cup,
this morning a ghost arises from a pile of blown leaves
fallen and rising again, palpable grief—
yellow leaves I have thought beautiful.
Parking Lot with Hummingbird
of kindly acts
connecting us, a wind that carries
things light enough to float—
I am too heavy in my steps.
And over my thought
a green spark—hummingbird
on a dime wouldn’t brush the edges—
diving away for the wind to carry—
feathers muscled into
starfields of movements spare
for kindness, forgiveness, not if
the wind were Guanyin herself
of the thousand arms.
I have lived my life too blindly,
a car brushing walkers with its wind.
for a human is un-
slow and wide.
You bump into, knock things over in the dark, break them.
It needs kindness.
It takes all your life.
Orchid by the Window
Pink blaze suddenly—
scroll of small suns with
dawn pink in the garden behind them:
this is your whole
it burns bright
work burns day
by day love
the smallest fingering
in your glance
is red music turning white
and here’s the thing
even your fear
is crumpled paper
little blue flames
under the kindling
or just going out
you’ll never know
you can’t choose
not to burn
Patrick Daly writes poetry and prose on his lunch hours. His poem “Words” was a 2015 poem of the year in the New Statesman (London). He has published poetry in many little magazines, most recently in Ekphrasis, and poems of his have appeared recently in the anthologies The Place that Inhabits Us, A Bird Black as the Sun, and Transfer 100 . His poem “Tiananmen Square” received honorable mention in the Pushcart Prizes, and his chapbook Playing with Fire won the Abby Niebauer Memorial Prize. He has published articles and book reviews in the London Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Palo Alto Weekly, and Nicholas Kristof published an excerpt from his poem “The War” in his column in The New York Times. He and his wife, Charlotte Muse, were founders and co-hosts of Out of Our Minds, a prime-time poetry show still running on KKUP radio in Cupertino, California.